Jayne Chu, my dear colleague, was in Beijing last week to support the work of youth activists and was sending us beautiful daily emails, which I used to write this post.
In our first post about the 5th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights (APCRSHR) in Beijing, we reported how youth activists were struggling to push their own Youth Declaration.
Now that the conference is over, and our youth activists have returned back to their respective homes, I wanted to update you on what happened with the Declaration.
Now, you may ask yourself why such a fuss over a conference declaration? Well, at these large international conferences, declarations committing participants to particular actions are often issued. Most people are familiar with resolutions and declarations issued by the United Nations following large scale conferences and reviews. Civil society also issue declarations, which typically serve as a call to action for governments, funders and other civil society organizations. Often, these declarations are based on language from other major conferences and international agreements. Given the ripple effect in policies and programs based on declarations and resolutions, it is really important that they reflect the voice and priorities of activists.
Due to some confusion the official APCRSHR steering committee posted a youth statement that was not in fact written by any of youth activists there. On October 17th, Youth Day, there was much negotiation and impassioned debate between youth activists and Steering Committee members about which declaration would be used, the one written by steering committee members or the one actually written by youth activists. The Steering Committee members argued there wasn’t enough time to post a new statement.
Mel Rose Dingal, the dedicated and fearless youth activist who served on the Steering Committee and helped organize a mentorship program for youth advocates, stepped in with a brilliant compromise. She suggested that the Steering Committee accept 5 youth volunteers representing the various regions to work on the draft edits together over the night. The steering committee members did not refuse and the young people worked throughout the night to create a second document–a 2 pager–of “key recommendations,” based on the language from the youth statements from the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP IX) and from the Berlin NGO Forum.
This youth declaration was signed off by the youth representatives and was much stronger as result of the back and forth process between youth and the steering committee members. Most importantly, this youth declaration is such a positive example of the way young people came together here at the conference and how they were able to express their advocacy objectives alongside and with adult allies.
The final document can be read downloaded as a PDF here. It is one of the strongest youth statements I have ever read. At APCRHSHR, young people proved that they are visionaries in promoting the meaningful participation of young people, not only in the content of their declaration but through the process they led to have their declaration heard.